(Bloomsbury, CAN$29.95, 235 pages; hardcover, published in September 2006.)
In the wake of her astonishing debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke returns with The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories.
Most of the stories in this collection are set in the same universe as Clarke's novel, an England in which magic and the realm of faerie coexist overtly with the mundane world. Even those stories that aren't exactly in that same universe inhabit a very similar one, such as "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse", which occurs in the world of Stardust, created by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess (the latter provides spot illustrations throughout Clarke's collection).
The most striking story is the "The Ladies of Grace Adieu", a staunchly feminist take on power relations as filtered through the politics of magic of Clarke's universe. Typically in Clarke's stories, a confused protagonist unwittingly encounters magic and/or the world of faerie, and then things get complicated, mysterious, scary, and wondrous.
Combining a judicious dose of antiquated language with complex characters, a carefully imagined fictional world, and peculiar plots, Clarke creates an enchanting atmosphere and a winning formula.
Considering that Clarke's next book is supposed to be another novel again set in the same universe, one worries, though, that Clarke may be a one-note author. If so, how long can that one note sustain itself?
The novel was more effective, mostly because the atmosphere gains power with the accumulation of detail, but these stories are nevertheless quite entertaining, imaginative, and erudite.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 20 January 2007, 23 June 2007